NORMAL – Fiscal incentives for new businesses wanting to become part of Normal’s business community was one of the topics candidates running for three Normal Town Council seats expressed opinions on in a second debate held Thursday, March 7 in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center on Illinois State University’s campus.

Two one term Council incumbents – Kathleen Lorenz and R. C. McBride – faced the six declared first-time candidates during a 90-minute session which was presented by WGLT FM 89.1, ISU’s National Public Radio affiliate for rebroadcast Friday. Six other formally announced candidates for the two seats – Alex Campbell, Pat Turner, Dave Shields, Joel Studebaker, Karyn Smith, and Stan Nord — round out the field of candidates and also took part in the session. Karl Sila, a write-in candidate for a Council seat, did not participate in the session, but has announced himself to be a write-in candidate.

“The most important thing you’re looking for when you offer tax incentives and tax breaks should be jobs,” stated Alex Campbell, an ISU student seeking a seat on the Council. “There are a lot of really brilliant minds here at ISU and those folks need to be kept here with livable wages.” He added the jobs being offered to prospective employees should be “sustainable jobs, not just part-time work.”

“I think everything needs to be looked at case-by-case, and holistically, and they are,” McBride said. He added this subject also has an effect on other governmental taxing bodies. “A lot of times we are hearing from someone seeking abatement or tax relief, and quite frankly, it never gets past the Town Staff level because it’s that obvious early on that there is no impact to the community.”

Lorenz reminded “that incentives are a tool that we can use to bring about economic growth that otherwise would not happen.” But even in stating that, Lorenz admitted not all projects need incentives, and all incentives must come with proof of performance results. In terms of offering incentives, she added, “I would like to see that our region, Bloomington, Normal, and the county work better together to have a basketful of incentives and tools from which we can all work together to attract different businesses bringing in good paying jobs which will stimulate the economy.”

Turner said she, too, saw the need for incentives on case-by-case basis. “It’s important that when we are planning long-term projects and those things that call for a great degree of funding, that we look to bring in those investors that will make those changes happen for the long-term benefit of our community.” While doing that though, Turner added, the Town should make sure the incentives don’t prompt companies to leave our community. “We want to welcome jobs, we want to welcome opportunity, we want to create long-term stability.”

“The key words I’ve heard are wages and benefits,” Studebaker said. “We want to make sure these are good jobs which are providing a good, stable life for the people who do them.” He said that means the jobs offered should be permanent in nature. “I am happy to see construction jobs anytime, but we need to be mindful of what we are building.” He cited proposed construction of a five-story mixed use building along Constitution Blvd, part of Beaufort St., and College Ave. recently approved by Council members known currently as Trail East as an example of bringing jobs to the community.

“In the long-term though, that parcel of land is owned by people from Chicago,” he said, arguing the money turned in by people with businesses in that building will not be paying their rent which would enrich locals but rather a company from out of town. “We need to make sure our money stays here in order to build community wealth.”

“I believe we should offer incentives to businesses who hire local and bring in their revenues from outside the area,” Stan Nord suggested. He stated out-of-town businesses who come into town seeking incentives are companies “who need us more than we need them.” He cited Portillo’s restaurant, based in Chicago, which opened a restaurant in Normal in August 2017 as such an example.

“We should not be giving them incentives,” Nord said. “The Trail East Building is bad to give incentives to the builders to.” Contracts have been signed with three business tenants to move into the building when it’s finished, but Nord said those businesses are based in Bloomington. Because of that, “There are no new jobs coming to the community for the incentive the Town is giving. There are no new homes to be bought. There are no new people to buy meals. The Town is simply reshuffling things around at the taxpayers’ expense.”

“I believe tax incentives to businesses should be the exception and not the rule,” Smith said. “Government should focus on its core mission of providing infrastructure, sound roads, a quality education system, because those add value to a business, and those are critical in making a business decision to want to come here.”

“The emphasis on making this a community where people want to live, want to work, will do more to attract businesses and having an educated work force than it would to have a race to the bottom when we compete with our neighbors in Bloomington and McLean County.”

“Each project does need to be looked at on its own merits,” Shields said. He said he would take a “three-prong approach” to decide whether to move forward on projects. “First, does it make financial sense? Where is all the other money coming from? What are we getting back for all that money?” He said he would also be asking what long-term benefit would the Town receive from entering into certain agreements. He said he counts not just economic reward as a benefit but also what jobs would be available as a result. He also would want to know if the opportunity is permanently lost if the Town doesn’t offer an incentive in front of the prospective incoming business.

Other questions asked at the debate included: Should Normal raise Motor Fuel Tax, following Bloomington’s lead, having raised theirs by 4 cents?; Where did candidates think development in the Town should be directed in the next 10 years?; What was the candidates’ definition of a good job? Lorenz and McBride are each seeking re-election to a second term on the Council. There is a vacant seat needing to be filled as a result of Council Member Jeff Fritzen’s decision not to seek another term in what was the second of two stretches on the Council, having first been elected in 1983. He stepped away from politics in 1999, and ran again in 2003, and has been reelected onto the Council since.

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